Governor LePage traveled to a small town in Washington County Thursday morning where local fishermen had been in the middle of a fight with the federal government.
The impacts of the temporarily resolved shutdown of the federal government were felt all over the U.S., even in Edmunds, a small town in coastal Washington County.
Last week, the federal government inexplicably ordered the closure of the boat launch in Cobscook Bay State Park, which prevented local fishermen from going to work. Although the park is on federal land, it’s a state park that uses state resources to operate. The Edmunds boat launch was strategically placed and is considered critical to local fishermen, as it allows them access to rich fishing waters in the area. After receiving word that the boat launch was closed, local fishermen contacted Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardener, who worked with state lawmakers and Maine’s congressional delegation. They thought they had the matter resolved, but the situation came to a boiling point this week when fishermen removed wooden barricades put up by federal employees and launched their boats.
“Yes we were very surprised. Number one that they would do it, and number two they would do it mere days after telling us that they wouldn’t,” Gardener said.
Despite the fact they reopened the boat launch Wednesday, the federal government has still given no answer as to why they closed the boat launch in the first place.
“I did not think that the federal government would take it to this extreme,” Lepage said. “They talk all the time. There’s so much hot air coming out of Washington that you don’t know what to believe and what not to believe.”
Despite the temporary deal to end the government shutdown, local fishermen and state and local lawmakers here are worried the same thing will happen again a few months down the road.
“What happened here this week in Washington County was a federal assault on state sovereignty and individual liberty,” said Representative Lawrence Lockman, an Amherst Republican who represents some of the fishermen impacted. “And I salute these fishermen for standing up to the federal bullies, pulling the barricades down and going to work.”
If the situation does happen again during the next round of federal budget negotiations, Governor LePage says he won’t allow hard working Mainers to be used as pawns in Washington’s political game and the boat launch will stay open.
“They won’t close this park again. I guarantee you that,” LePage said. “The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the state of Maine and I will authorize him to keep this place open.”
The governor also said he has not yet lifted the civil emergency he declared in the wake of the shutdown.
LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett says the administration is using it as an administrative tool to allow the state flexibility as the federal government transitions back to normal government operations.
“These aren’t secret powers and the administration will be transparent with the public as to the extent by which civil emergency authority is exercised if in fact it is exercised at all,” Bennett said in a statement.